Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.)
As the senior senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell has the privilege
of using the desk that once belonged to Henry Clay.
recently told the New York Times that Clay, known as the Great
Compromiser for his role in brokering some of history's most notable
political deals, is an inspiring figure given the decisions one
has to make as Senate Republican Whip.
McConnell is probably best known for his uncompromising opposition
to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill and his feuding
with the legislation's Republican sponsor, Sen. John McCain of
mustered enough support to defeat McCain-Feingold in 1999, but
it finally passed both houses of Congress and was signed into
law in March 2002. McConnell has made good on his pledge to fight
the legislation in court.
McConnell the issue is clear. He believes spending money to support
a cause or candidate constitutes free speech, which is explicitly
protected by the First Amendment. He has called the bill, which
bans "soft money" contributions to political parties,
unconstitutional and "stunningly stupid." He has pledged
to challenge the bill before the Supreme Court if necessary. A
federal court panel in the District of Columbia is considering
the case and it could end up before the high court before the
current session ends in June.
for McConnell difficult battles are nothing new. Born in Alabama
in 1942, He contracted polio as a child, enduring a long fight
with the disease. He credits his mother, who ferried him to treatments
sessions in Warm Springs, Georgia and personally oversaw his daily
exercises, for his full recovery. The treatment lasted two years.
for her tenacity, I would not have been able to walk normally,"
McConnell told the New York Times.
McConnell was 13, his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky where
he began his long string of political victories. He was elected
student body president while in high school, president of the
student government at the University of Louisville, and president
of the Student Bar Association while in law school at the University
in college, McConnell served as an intern on the staff of Kentucky
Sen. John Sherman Cooper. After law school he joined the staff
of Sen. Marlow Cook. He later served as a deputy assistant attorney
general during the Ford administration.
1977, at age 35, McConnell was elected Jefferson County, Kentucky
Judge-Executive. The position was previously held by his mentor
Sen. Cook. McConnell was re-elected in 1981.
1984 McConnell ran for the U.S. Senate, defeating Dee Huddleston
by 5,169 votes out of more than a million cast. In 1990 he was
re-elected after a close race with former Louisville Mayor Harvey
Sloane. McConnell won 52 percent to Sloan's 48 percent. In 1996
he fended off a challenge from former Lieutenant Gov. Steve Beshear.
McConnell won by a decisive margin, 55 percent to 43 percent.
In 2002 he beat Lois Combs Weinberg, daughter of former Gov. Bert
Combs, 64 percent to 36 percent, prompting President Bush to nickname
him "Landslide McConnell."
the Senate, McConnell has built a conservative record and is known
as a fierce partisan. He forced President Bill Clinton to appoint
a McCain-Feingold opponent to the Federal Election Commission
by putting a hold on Clinton's choice for ambassador to the United
Nations. When Sen. Trent Lott was accused of making racially insensitive
comments in December of 2002, McConnell threatened to censure
any Democratic senator who may have made similar comments in the
November of 1996 McConnell was elected chairman of the Republican
Senate Campaign Committee. It was his third attempt to win the
post. The GOP gained no seats in 1998 election, prompting Sen.
Chuck Hagel to challenge McConnell for the chairmanship. McConnell
was re-elected 39 to 13.
the 2000 elections Republicans lost enough close races to end
up with a 50-50 split in the Senate. GOP senators, however, seemed
to respect McConnell's effort and leadership and, according to
Michael Barone's Almanac of American Politics, "McConnell
did not seem to be getting much blame."
he may have struggled to lead his party to a decisive majority
in the Senate, McConnell has enjoyed much more success building
the GOP at home. He has been called the father of the modern Republican
Party in Kentucky and is considered the power behind the party's
7-1 dominance of Kentucky's congressional delegation.
was unanimously elected Senate Republican Whip after the 2002
election. Conventional wisdom says that McConnell will be doing
a lot of the heavy lifting for the GOP leadership while his boss,
newly elected Majority Leader Bill Frist, gets his bearings. "McConnell
is as good a strategist and tactician as one can find on Capitol
Hill," writes political analyst Charlie Cook.
January article in the congressional newspaper Roll Call compared
the two leaders, concluding that "McConnell has a decade
more experience in the chamber and has been at the forefront of
numerous floor fights."
far, McConnell has gone out of his way to demonstrate his loyalty
to Frist. Some political observers believe McConnell is planning
to ascend to the Leader position if Frist honors a self-imposed
two-term limit and leaves the Senate after his current term.
wife is Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Chao has filled various
government posts and has served as president of the United Way
of America and director of the Peace Corps.
-- By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour